The amazing impact that Gwinnett County has had on the world of sports, both at the professional and amateur level, was clearly in evidence at Coolray Field Sunday (May 1) as the Gwinnett County Sports Hall of Fame inducted six amazing athletes whose careers sprouted seeds here years ago.
Two brothers whose careers blossomed during baseball's "Golden Era" in the early 1900s, a Heisman Trophy winner, a world-class swimmer, a defensive coordinator for National Champion Auburn, and a remarkable high school basketball coach who has won five straight state championships comprised the second class of inductees.
George Rogers, who prepped at Duluth High School in the 1970s and rushed for a record-breaking 2,286 yards in a single season, brought along the Heisman Trophy he won as a running back at the University of South Carolina -- not a replica, mind you, but the real McCoy.
After Rogers record-breaking career with the Gamecocks, he became the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft and quickly demonstrated why, as he rushed for 1,674 yards in his rookie season for the New Orleans Saints. He played seven seasons professionally and reached the pinacle of his career by winning a Super Bowl title with the Washington Redskins.
Rogers now works in the Gamecocks athletic department, where he makes frequent guest appearances for the school, talking to recruits and playing in fund-raiser golf tournaments.
Fighting to hold back tears, Rogers said there were too many people to thank individually for the honor. But he spotted his high school coach in the crowd and thanked him for taking him under his wing early in his career. Coach Cecil Morris was something of a father figure for Rogers, whose biological father was in prison during his high school career.
Eddie Martin was a standout basketball player at Central Gwinnett High School in Lawrenceville and has since become one of Georgia's top high school coaches. He has ammassed more than 600 career wins and won won five consecutive state championships at Norcross and Greater Atlanta Christian.
"I used to think I was a pretty good player until looked around at these other guys here today," Martin said. "To be a success, you have to surround yourself with other successful people. That's what I did. I was surrounded by good people."
Mary Ellen Blanchard, now Mary Ellen Warta, was a world-class swimmer who competed at Norcross High School and missed qualifying for the Olympics by one second when she was just 14 years old. But she never let that deter her from her goals. She went on set two American and one U.S. Open record in 1989.
"This is a really proud moment not only for me, but for Norcross High School," said Blanchard. "I was proud to be given the chance to swim for the U.S. team. It was really a neat experience to be able to give Norcross High School some national exposure."
Ted Roof starred on the gridiron at Central Gwinnett High School in Lawrenceville and went on to become an All-ACC linebacker at Georgia Tech where he is a member of the Yellow Jackets Hall of Fame. Today, he is a highly sought after defensive coordinator for BCS National Champion Auburn University.
"I'm very honored and humbled," Roof said in accepting the Hall of Fame ring and jacket that goes along with the honor. "It's really neat to be going in with all these other great inductees. I remember watching George play as a kid. I'm very blessed to be a part of this."
Brothers Red and Ivey Wingo, who grew up playing baseball in Norcross in the early 1900s, received the award posthumously.
Ivey Wingo squatted behind the plate for the World Champion Cincinnati Reds who won the World Series in 1919.
Red Wingo played for the Detroit Tigers where he was part of a legendary outfield that consisted of the "Georgia Peach" Ty Cobb and Harry Heilmann. Nearly 100 years later, they are still the only outfield tandem who all hit over .370 for a season.
In accepting the award for his great-grandfather, Jim Wingo said, "I'm honored to be involved in this. It's a dream come true."